I don’t want this piece to be about Harriotte’s blindness. Harriotte herself is so capable, enthusiastic, warm and independent that it is easy to forget she is blind. As she says, “my friends will leave me on a curb” not remembering that she can’t see. She takes it as a great compliment.
Harriotte is a veteran co-operative household member who has spent almost her entire adult life, including three marriages and raising two children, living in shared housing. Her current home is a house she bought with her husband in 1985. It’s in Davis Square, Somerville an area that was once pretty shabby, but has come up in the world significantly. It is two train stops from Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
She attributes her liking of communal living to early experiences with camps and boarding schools where she felt free, independent and supported. Hariotte lost her sight around the age of six. She has never let it stop her! From boarding school to co-op housing in college to off campus housing her history of shared housing is much like many folks who came to young adulthood in the sixties and seventies. It just that she stayed.
Over the thirty years of living in this particular cooperative house Harriotte has had a full range of experience. She’s been divorced, a single mom and remarried. She says, “We even had housemates when I was pregnant!” At one point there were four adults and three two-year old boys. About that she says “it was insane” and laughs. She also says she has had wonderful, remarkable housemates who related to her children and made her life richer.
Listen to her describe two of these housemates
The selection process she has evolved is very similar to the one described in Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates.
She has a very clear requirements for who will be a good housemate and who won’t. Of prime importance is experience of living in a co-op. She says, “People who don’t want that sort of experience will rule themselves out.” Her ad (see below) lays out various other requirements. She says, “It filters out lots of people.” She uses both word of mouth to find housemates and also craigslist. “I know how to spot the scammers,” she says. After all this experience she has a pretty clear idea of who will and who won’t work out.
She interviews by telephone first. Listening to a person’s voice and talking about how they live in the house gives her a good idea of whether there might be a good fit. She’ll ask, “What kind of environment do you want in a home? What are you looking for? How do you like things to be at home?” She makes sure that the potential housemate understands that there a lots of visitors coming and going and that it’s not a monastic experience. If the interview is going well she will probe deeper, explaining that she is blind and may ask for small favors like reading an envelope, finding out who is at the door, or identifying the type of soup she’s pulled off the shelf.
If that goes well, she’ll invite the person for a group interview. The group interview enables her to learn how much they can stand socially. She can also tell by a person’s aura if things are too messy for them and they are uncomfortable. She says, “The people who live here have to be stalwart, interested in experimenting, must like cats, not mind the messiness, and be at ease with the comings and goings of the house. People who want a predictable household are miserable here.” The first interview tells a lot, “either they don’t call me back, or if we decide it’s not a good fit, I’ll blame my other other housemates to turn them down. I try to do it gracefully.”
She’s had more housemates than she can count. She’s made mistakes. Overall she loves living in shared housing. It’s clear that she loves people and loves having folks around.
Living in co-op housing is a very smart adaptation to her disability. She talks about how easy is it is to get into an unhealthy dependent relationship with one person. And how that dependency can turn ugly and abusive. She says, “We are social animals, if we are observed we are going to maintain dignity and respect.”
Having people around, having the companionship of others to witness one’s life, lessening dependency on one person with others to help—these are excellent reasons for a disabled person to live in shared housing.
Harriotte’s ad for spacious single room March 2013
Title: Spacious room in Davis Square, available April 1, 2013
Cooperative household seeks a new member for a spacious room on the second floor of our three-story home. We have an excellent location in Davis Square Somerville, with large eat-in kitchen, two full bathrooms, small garden area, and on site laundry. We are a two minute walk from the Davis Square Red Line stop, two blocks from Cambridge, and a 20 minute walk to Tufts University. Although one can see Davis Square from our backdoor, thanks to the many one-way streets, it is very quiet here evenings and nights.
We are a semi-vegetarian, non-smoking, organic food sharing co-op household, with five adults, two cats, and occasional visiting adults and children. We have a strong preference for people with positive previous co-op living experience, a passion for cooking and eating stir-fried greens, and energy for composting, recycling, and social house projects.
Rent is $810 per month which includes all utilities, high speed internet service, free laundry, room to store bicycles or other items, and weekly professional house cleaning. I require a one-month deposit, which is placed in escrow and will be returned to you after your departure. The room is available April 1 through at least august 31, or longer if desired.
If you are interested in living with us, please contact Harriotte at the email address above.